When President Obama signed ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) into law last December, it was a hailed as big win for libraries—after years of advocacy work by various library groups, the new federal education law includes significant (and long absent) support for school libraries. But with the library community's successful advocacy effort over, the hard work of implementing ESSA has begun—and for school librarians hoping to take full advantage of the law's new provisions, the clock is ticking.
That's why library advocacy group EveryLibrary—with substantial support from Rosen Publishing—this week rolled out plans to provide state school library associations and stakeholder groups with "pro-bono advising and consulting” on how to lobby their states for a successful ESSA implementation.
“The success that the ALA (American Library Assocation) and AASL (American Association of School Librarians) had in Washington getting school library issues into [ESSA] was a singular achievement,” said Roger Rosen, President of Rosen Publishing, noting that the new law offers “tremendous new opportunities for states to put effective school library programs to work for their students.” Indeed, ESSA includes a range of school library-friendly “authorizing provisions” missing for more than a decade, since the passage of No Child Left Behind.
But the heavy lifting did not end with ESSA’s passage, Rosen notes. Each state must now submit an ESSA Implementation Plan to the U.S. Department of Education by April 2017 (for the school year beginning August 2017). And in order for school libraries to gain the full benefit of federal funding available under ESSA, each state will have to modify their existing education laws, administrative codes, and other rules and regulations to make them “ESSA-compliant and grant-ready."
That will be no easy feat, explains EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka, given that many state and Local Education Agencies (LEA) currently lack legislative language pertaining to school library programs or positions, after so many years of getting no federal support. Complicating matters, Chrastka adds, the timelines for each state are “incredibly compressed and unusually fast.”
With ESSA planning now getting underway in each state, Chrastka says it is “absolutely critical” that library supporters raise their game, and work to ensure that ESSA Implementation Plans in every state include "the positive changes for school library programs and school librarian positions" that were lobbied hard for and won by ALA and AASL—whether that means getting school library advocates on ESSA state task forces themselves, submitting public comments, or opening effective dialogues with ESSA committees.
In some states, the planning process is already underway and "a tactical discussion" about how to insert library advocates into the process is needed, Chrastka says. In other states, the process is still being developed and library supporters have "a singular opportunity to be at the table at the beginning.” (A comprehensive calendar of dates and deadlines for the ESSA Implementation Planning Processes in each state is posted on EveryLibrary’s web site).
With significant experience helping library ballot measures succeed at the local level, EveryLibrary (working with a range of library organizations) is uniquely prepared to help with ESSA Implementation, offering state-specific, proven tactics for lobbying success—and, Chrastka stresses, the assistance is completely free to library supporters. “Because of Rosen Publishing’s support, we have capacity to help your state,” Chrastka states—all library administrators and supporters need to do is get in touch.
But don’t delay, Chrastka warns. Action is needed immediately. With ESSA deadlines coming up fast, state administrators will not "pause to wait for [libraries]," nor will they "double back to make sure [libraries] are catching up.”